This Cola Guest Editorial is by Bob Guenther & Doug Howell.

When debating an issue, it is sometimes easy to get lost in the narrow issues that divide us instead of building on the shared values that unite us. While labor unions and environmentalists have been working together on clean energy projects in Washington for years, one question has continued to be a point of disagreement–how and when to phase out TransAlta’s coal fired power plant?

Environmentalists argue that as the states largest stationary source of climate pollution, the plant should stop burning coal as soon as possible. Labor organizations argue that too hasty a transition would jeopardize the jobs of the 300 full-time workers and the 400 part-time building and construction trades workers at the plant. On these points, labor unions and environmental organizations have remained at odds until earlier this month when an agreement was reached that would benefit Washington’s workforce and the environment.

On March 5th, 2011 Organized Labor and major environmental organizations in Washington reached an historic agreement with the TransAlta Corporation and Gov. Chris Gregoire to phase out coal-fired power generation in Washington. The agreement reflects all parties’ shared vision of a Washington powered by clean energy and will provide a model for the nation of how investing in transition to a clean-energy future can create good jobs and a healthy economy.

The groundbreaking agreement calls for closing one of TransAlta’s coal-fired boilers by 2020 and the other by 2025. It ensures there’s a plan in place to clean up and tear down the plant and prepare the site for future economic development. It also protects Washington families from harmful pollution through the installation of control technology by 2013 which will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides.

Additionally, the agreement includes that TransAlta provides $30 million dollars to Lewis County for community economic development and local energy efficiency improvement projects that will create state standard wage for like skills. TransAlta will also provide Washington State with $25 million to spur new energy technology development and keep our state competitive in tomorrow’s economy.

With this agreement, TransAlta has the certainty to operate through the year 2025 and the legal obligation to stop burning coal in Washington. If Senate Bill 5769 is passed and signed by our governor, then citizens will enjoy cleaner air, new opportunities and a shared prosperity.

By focusing on our shared values that unite us we build a stronger America while protecting the health of our communities, creating clean-energy jobs and advancing policies that help working families across the country –we can work together to achieve true prosperity for Washington.

Environmentalists and labor organizations are standing together, united in support of an agreement that will move Washington beyond coal. We look forward to working with TransAlta, the community of Lewis County and our state legislators to pass SB 5769, legislation that fully reflects the stakeholders’ historic agreement.

Bob Guenther is President of the Thurston Lewis Mason Counties Labor Council; Doug Howell is the Campaign Director for the Sierra Club’s Coal-Free Future for Washington campaign.

Here is some of PubliCola's recent coverage of the TransAlta deal, including news about: an amendment to the deal that would allow TransAlta to get out of meeting greenhouse gas emission standards at a replacement natural gas plant; House environmental chair Rep. Dave Upthegrove's (D-33, Des Moines)  contention that the deal aint a done deal yet; and our basic report on the agreement.